Inside the game: logging the tennis

Wimbledon: Deep in the lightless, air-conditioned bowels of the Broadcast Centre at Wimbledon, Timeline TV has assembled serried ranks of EVS servers and IPDirector terminals all dedicated to capturing every nuance of every televised match.

You know you’re doing well as a company when you yourself have lost track of the number of your products deployed at an event. Such is the case with EVS, which reckons it has 60 or 70 servers in play at Wimbledon 2011, but has kind of lost track of the exact number.

16 of them though can be accounted for at work for Timeline TV, which since 2007 has been subcontracted by IMG Media to provide a host broadcast solution at the Championships. They sit there quietly humming away to themselves in their racks as Timeline MD, Daniel McDonnell explains the system and quite how they cope with around 100TB of media over the two weeks of the Championships.

“Our job is to take all that media and log it,” he says simply. “The way the system works is that we’re recording 24 HD signals all day long at 120Mbps. We also record a 6Mbps version into another set of servers, making sure that every high res clip also has a low res version. Every user in the compound is looking at low res – it wouldn’t work if they were looking at high res when you have over 50 browsing terminals out there.”

Shots get selected, in and outs marked, and the high res clip is sent to the location. The BBC as host broadcaster obviously uses the system, as does IMG itself for the world feed, Channel 7, The Tennis Channel, Fox and (signed up on the day) NBC. ESPN brings its own massive system and crew of loggers over, though that also uses the same EVS technology.

“The BBC is a very large client of the system,” says McDonnell. “They don’t have any tape-based workflow any more or paper based logging. If they’re sitting in an edit and want to find a shot, they’ll look for it on IPDirector, clip it up and send it to their edit platform,which is FCP. They also have machines in the transmission area so they can look things up if requested by the director and get them on air very quickly.”

As well as the world feed, Timeline has also deployed five FCP systems for host editing the hourly highlights programme that broadcasters the world over take every evening, as well as additional material for the website. It also supervises the 10 outgoing lines that can be supplied to broadcasters so that they can remotely produce their own shows without the expense of actually being on-site.

The system has also allowed for Timeline to be onsite with four years of archive material. “If a player has played on a televised court since 2007, then we have that footage and quite a lot of footage of them,” says McDonnell, illustrating his point by search for ‘shadows’ on an IPDirector terminal. The search reveals about eight shots from 2011 (shadows creeping across the court, an umpire’s shadow, a ball girl’s shadow etc), while with the touch of a button he can expand that search to the whole archive and over 60 examples return.

This can be handy. “The world feed has to rain fill, so if it rains on the first day you can find yourself really stuck!” comments David Shield, Senior Vice President at IMG Media.

Intensive logging

“We log everything from the point of view of good coverage,” explains McDonnell. “Whenever an event happens it might be logged as ‘Murray throws his racket’ or ‘Murray smiles at cameras’ [rarely- Ed.], or whatever. We are also integrated into the IBM system here and get all their data. The instant that the ball lands we get sent a whole load of data about that point from its start when the ball first left the racket the speed of serve and number of shots from the radar, and some extra information entered in by the courtside scorers, such as where did serve the land, how it was returned, what was the winning shot and so on.

“We get all that information automatically and then we add to the logs all the creative things that the computer and the radar don’t know about, the reactions basically.”

Despite all the expensive kit in operation, the system is worthless without the team of 15 loggers. Each logger looks after a court and has a grid of keywords that they can use to tag the action (keywords being used as often as possible to speed up the logging on one hand, and ensure it’s consistent on the other). Colour coding, such as highlighting break points in yellow, also makes it quick and easy for anyone on the system to ‘read’ a match.

“Using IPDirector is a skill, but it’s a very easy skill for us to teach,” says McDonnell. “As soon as you’ve done one day’s tennis logging, you’ve learnt the key grids and you know where all the words are. The key to being a good logger is tennis knowledge, how to read the game, and knowing what is going to be a good shot for television.”


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